Back to NEC Reports Directory
 
 
National Executive Committee Annual Conference 
26/30 September 2004 [published October]

The NEC enjoyed a generally harmonious conference, with the unions in helpful mood after their achievements at the Warwick National Policy Forum.  They used their four contemporary motions - on public services, pensions, employment rights and manufacturing - to remind ministers of their promises, and the NEC supported all of them as well as an emergency motion on threatened job losses at Jaguar.  Eleven other emergency resolutions were submitted, but NEC members were no more able than the delegate from Bethnal Green & Bow to discover what they were about.  However requests for conference papers to be circulated earlier, so that delegates have more than three days to discuss them with their constituencies, will be taken seriously.

A rule change last year allowed constituencies to choose an extra four contemporary subjects, but they did not use their new freedom and voted mainly for the union motions, already guaranteed a place on the agenda.  Some reported official persuasion, at pre-conference briefings and during the ballot, to do this.  The only exception was Iraq, where two motions emerged:  Composite 5 expressed many concerns and urged everyone to heed the lessons of the last two years, while supporting the current political process leading to elections and a peaceful handover to the Iraqis.  Composite 6 called explicitly for Tony Blair to name an early date for the withdrawal of British troops.

Backstage Manoeuvres

Informal intimations were that the leadership could live with the first but not the second, and a twin-track approach was pursued.  The 19-year- old delegate from Walthamstow signed Composite 6 on Sunday, but changed his mind on Monday, leaving the motion without a seconder and liable to be dropped.  This proved unnecessary when the unions agreed to oppose Composite 6, and to accept instead an NEC statement which laid out the terms of UN resolution 1546, clarifying that the mandate for the British presence would expire in December 2005, with troops leaving earlier if requested by the Iraqi government.  Central to the discussions was Abdullah Muhsin of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, who said that early unilateral withdrawal would be “bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism, and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists”.  I am always nervous about any individual claiming to be the sole authentic voice of working people, in Iraq or Britain or anywhere else, but the IFTU is supported by the RMT and the PCS unions on the further left, as well as by UNISON, suggesting broad-based political credibility.

The NEC only became formally involved on Wednesday, the eve of the debate.  Christine Shawcroft proposed adding to the NEC statement a call for the government to begin a phased withdrawal as soon as possible, but this was rejected by 18 votes to four (Christine, Mark Seddon, John Holmes and myself) with two abstentions.  The statement was then carried 20 in favour (including myself) to one against, with three abstentions.  A further proposal that we should ask the movers of the two composites to withdraw them, and oppose them if they refused, was carried by 18 votes to four.

After a balanced debate with strong views from all sides, conference supported the NEC statement, Composite 5 was withdrawn, and Composite 6 was defeated by 85.8% to 14.2% (constituencies 81.5% to 18.5%, unions 90.0% to 10.0%).  The text of all three is included at the end.

Partnership Concluded
The National Policy Forum had agreed to present five choices to conference.  However two of these – votes at 16 and foundation hospitals as an example of local democracy – were withdrawn by their original proposers, negating the Forum’s decision.  A third, calling vaguely for a more democratic and representative second chamber, was accepted by Lord Falconer, bypassing both the Forum and the NEC.  The fourth, arguing for councils to get a level financial playing- field if tenants chose to stay with them, was carried on a show of hands, about 80% in favour.  John Prescott was further discomfited when the fifth, calling for renationalisation of the railways, was also carried 63.7% to 36.3%, though he felt able to disregard it because while the unions were 99.5% to 0.5% in favour, the constituencies were 72% to 28% against.  The cost was cited as £22 billion (by the government) and nothing (by the TSSA union, which suggested simply not renewing franchises when they expired). 

The Rules of the Game

The NEC was happier talking about the Clause V committee, which signs off the election manifesto, and after three days and nights with Ian McCartney, Tony Robinson managed to add another two constituency members, elected by and from the National Policy Forum. I supported the principle but see the result as largely symbolic, since this meeting is really just a last-minute rubber-stamp.

Our attitudes to other rule changes had been decided at previous meetings, and conference obligingly accepted all those from the NEC and rejected all those from constituencies.  The votes are listed below. The new requirement for constituencies to transfer ownership of property from their trustees to the Labour party is causing widespread concern, and I am trying to get assurances from the general secretary that it is intended as an administrative safeguard, in case the trustees die or disappear, and that local parties will retain their current level of control in practice.  I was also disturbed to be told after conference that the Young Labour National Committee has not met since February, and was never consulted on the amendment introducing gender balance for the NEC youth member, or on the proposal from Hammersmith & Fulham to change the method of electing the Young Labour Chair.   

The need to encourage and involve young people was stressed at a seminar on the 21st Century Party, with older members reporting that their children preferred charities and issue groups.  Hazel Blears said that the working group was not plotting to disempower general committees.  Most speakers were willing to experiment, though some still reported falling numbers and wondered if the real problem was that the leadership did not listen.  One practical request was that local parties should be able to select council candidates earlier, and I am taking this up, particularly as positive action measures for the 2005 elections were only circulated late in June 2004, after some selections had begun.
 
The Partnership in Power review groups also held a consultation session.  Perhaps too many contributions were from those of us inside the system, who enjoy face-to-face dialogue with ministers, and though the vice-chairs stressed that they are there to reflect members’ views, not one delegate could identify the seven people from their region who act in their name.  Many suggested using the party website to publish submissions, so that people knew how many others shared their concerns.  Others asked who decided which ideas went into the documents, and emphasised that if minority positions were agreed by conference but omitted from the manifesto, it discredited the whole system.

Domestic Arrangements

The NEC received regular security updates.  We do not yet know whether some of the protesters at Tony Blair’s speech only joined the party two days earlier, but the Mole Valley delegate, a campaigner of many years, was removed by the police for several hours before being let back in.  Unfortunately the cute foxy glove puppets sold by the League Against Cruel Sports were confiscated, because of fears that delegates might wave them at Countryside Alliance marchers and stir up uncontrollable frenzy.  Our seating arrangements were also a moveable feast, with NEC members angry at being kept in the dark at the back on Sunday, and asking repeatedly for more women to grace the platform.

Some people asked me whether the rule-book included a dress code. Recipients of campaigning awards wore eye-catching T-shirts against hunting (Dewsbury) and for fair trade (Stroud), and the Sedgefield delegate sported a badge featuring Tony Blair  However, T-shirts backing public ownership of the railways were barred.  The purple-pink and acid green set was thought lurid, though maybe it looked better on TV, and the semi-oval behind the speakers reminded me of a varnished thumb-nail.
 
Impressions

Overall the atmosphere was united but subdued.  Chants of “four more years”, borrowed from presidential rallies, may have fitted a prime ministerial speech given mainly in the first person (“the decisions I’ve taken, the judgments I’ve made”) with little reference to cabinet or collective opinion, but surely we should ask for five more years on this side of the pond?  And though Tony Blair and Tesco, who sponsored the delegates’ welcome reception, claimed to share the same values, I would not bet on supermarkets sticking around for five minutes if we lost an election.  Unlike the unions and their solidarity through eighteen years in the wilderness.  

Ken Livingstone got a standing ovation for simply being there.  He introduced London’s Olympic bid, backed by many delegates and all parties except UKIP, which unpatriotically favours Paris.  Most policy announcements had been well-trailed, but beneath the surface there are hints at new attacks on incapacity benefit, and though Mark Seddon raised this at the NEC, he did not get an answer.
 
In September the NEC was told that Bono would not be speaking, but Christine Shawcroft’s entreaties must have produced a change of heart.  He was warmly received.  And the Corus Chorus did indeed lead us in The Red Flag, and in Jerusalem, where Tony Blair joined in with enthusiasm:  “I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”.  And in the deserts of Iraq, and in Palestine, and in Africa . . . 
 
Once, Twice, Three Times a Chair

On Wednesday night Ian McCartney took over from Mary Turner as Chair of the NEC, adding to his roles as appointed party Chair and Chair of the National Policy Forum.  Jeremy Beecham was elected vice-chair.  Tony Blair paid tribute to retiring NEC colleagues Jimmy Elsby and Tony Robinson, praising the latter’s integrity and understanding of ordinary members.  I seconded these sentiments, and pointed out that if his virtues had been appreciated by Millbank, we would not be saying goodbye to him.  Perhaps the NEC will feature in the next series of The Worst Jobs in the World.

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official record. Past reports are available at http://www.annblack.com 

Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 01865-722230, ann.black@unisonfree.net

Rule Amendments

Changes to comply with PPERA (party funding legislation) – carried 96.6% / 3.4% (constituencies 93.2% / 6.8%, affiliates 100% / 0%)

Rules to establish ethnic minority forums – carried 97.9% / 2.1% (constituencies 96.1% / 3.9%, affiliates 99.8% / 0.2%)
 
Amended rules for Labour Groups – carried 88.5% / 11.5% (constituencies 91.5% / 8.5%, affiliates 85.5% / 14.5%)
 
Property ownership to be transferred to Labour party nominees – carried  84.9% / 15.1% (constituencies 70.8% / 29.2%, affiliates 99.0% / 1.0%)
 
Young Labour NEC representative to be a woman at least every other term – carried 97.4% / 2.6% (constituencies 94.7% / 5.3%, affiliates 100.0% / 0.0%)

Regional parties to act as European constituency parties – carried 99.4% / 0.6% (constituencies 98.9% / 1.1%, affiliates 100.0% / 0.0%)

Party chair and vice-chair to be elected by conference delegates – lost 26.3% / 73.7% (constituencies 28.1% / 71.9%, affiliates 24.5% / 75.5%)

CLPs to be able to send two delegates to conference for the first 749 members – lost 25.6% / 74.4% (constituencies 39.9% / 60.1%, affiliates 11.3% / 88.7%)
 
Increase constituency NEC seats from 6 to 8 – lost 43.3% / 56.7% (constituencies 45.2% / 54.8%, affiliates 41.4% / 58.6%)

Young Labour conference to elect Chair of Young Labour – lost 25.3% / 74.7% (constituencies 26.4% / 73.6%, affiliates 24.2% / 75.8%)

Minimum quotas for men as well as for women – lost 12.6% / 87.4% (constituencies 24.7% / 75.3%, affiliates 0.5% / 99.5%)

Clause V committee – carried 95.78% / 4.22% (constituencies 92.2% / 7.8%, affiliates 99.3%, 0.7%)
 
Motions on Iraq
 
NEC Statement – carried on a show of hands
 
Conference resolves to do everything we can to help the Iraqis build a free, stable and democratic future.  Conference condemns all acts of terrorism, including the holding of innocent people as hostages. Conference notes that the vast majority of the victims of these attacks are the Iraqi people themselves.
 
Conference acknowledges that those who supported and those who opposed military action in Iraq have united in support of the efforts of the emerging civil society in Iraq, including various parties, women's groups and the new, secular and independent Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The IFTU strongly supports the process endorsed by the United Nations Security Council for the creation of a federal, democratic, pluralist, and unified Iraq, in which there is full respect for the political and human rights of all. Conference supports the TUC's appeal to raise funds to help rebuild the Iraqi trade union movement and its campaigns for workers rights.

Conference notes UN Security Council Resolution 1546 was adopted unanimously by all fifteen members on 8 June 2004. The British Government sponsored the Resolution, voted for it, is bound by it, and of course will honour it.

This resolution stated that, "the mandate for the multi national force shall be reviewed at the request of the Government of Iraq or 12 months from the date of this resolution and that this mandate shall expire upon the completion of the political progress...and declares that it will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq”.
 
In the light of this UN resolution conference recognises that British troops remain in Iraq at any time only at the request of the Iraqi Government and under the terms of this resolution the UN mandate for the multinational forces will terminate by December 2005. Thereafter, there would have to be a request for the renewal of their mandate from the democratically elected Iraqi Government either with the agreement of the UN Security Council or as the result of a specific request from a democratically elected Iraqi government agreed with the United Kingdom Government, in conformity with UN resolutions and international law.
 
Conference notes that the UN adopted this resolution in response to a request by lyad Allawi, Prime Minister of the interim Iraqi Government. Conference notes that this UN resolution looked forward "to the end of the occupation and the assumption of full responsibility and authority by a fully sovereign and independent Interim Government of Iraq". Conference notes that the transfer of sovereignty took place on the 28th of June this year.

The UN resolution recognised the importance of the consent of the sovereign government of Iraq for the presence of the multi national force and close coordination between the multi national force and that government. Conference notes that these elections will lead to a Transitional National Assembly which will have responsibility for drafting a permanent constitution for Iraq leading to a constitutionally elected government by the end of 2005.

The UN resolution noted "the Iraqi request for the continued presence of the multi national force" and set out its tasks including, "by preventing and deterring terrorism so that the United Nations can fulfil its role in assisting the Iraqi people" and allowing them to, "implement freely and without intimidation the timetable and programme for the political process and benefit from reconstruction and rehabilitation activities.”

This UN resolution makes clear that "Iraqi security forces are responsible to appropriate Iraqi ministers" and that the Iraqi Government and the Multinational Force should reach agreement "on the full range of fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations”.

The UN resolution recognised “that the multi national force will also assist in building the capability of the Iraqi security forces and institutions through a programme of recruitment, training, equipping, mentoring and monitoring”.

Composite 5  UK Role In Iraq - withdrawn by the mover

Conference condemns the taking of hostages by militants in Iraq and regrets the killing of the 12 Nepali hostages reported on 1 September. Conference believes that those who attack not only the coalition forces but the UN and the Iraqi people themselves, cannot be allowed to succeed in their efforts to disrupt the transition to a democratic and free Iraq.
 
Conference also notes since 5 August, there has been a series of uprisings, with fighting in Najaf, Diwaniya, Sadr City and elsewhere, with considerable loss of life. Conference notes that the recent military conflict in Najaf was resolved by the actions of the Iraqis themselves. Conference recalls the concerns expressed by many in the party over military action in Iraq and restates its continuing belief that such action must only take place when all diplomatic efforts have failed, and must be in accordance with international law and within the UN framework.

Conference remains concerned at the continuing security problems in Iraq but notes the political and economic progress that has been made over the past year including the establishment of a free trade union movement, an independent judiciary and freedom of the press. Conference notes the establishment on 15th August of an interim National Assembly. The Assembly reflects the diversity of Iraqi society and will hold democratic elections to a Transitional National Assembly by December 2004/January 2005. The Transitional National Assembly will have responsibility for forming a Transitional Government of Iraq, drafting a permanent constitution for Iraq and overseeing the process of creating a constitutionally elected democratic government of Iraq by the end of 2005.

Conference acknowledges that those who supported and those who opposed military action in Iraq have united in support of the efforts of the emerging civil society in Iraq, including various parties, women's groups and the new, secular and independent Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU.) The IFTU strongly supports the process endorsed by United Nations Security Council for the creation of a federal, democratic, pluralist, and unified Iraq, in which there is full respect for the political and human rights of all. Conference supports the TUC's appeal to raise funds to help rebuild the Iraqi trade union movement and its campaigns for workers rights.

Conference encourages all party branches and members to support this appeal and work of these democratic grassroots Iraqi civil society organisations. Conference urges the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to continue and expand their support for such Iraqi non-governmental organisations. Conference believes that the party must unite in its commitment to helping the Iraqi people to build a secure, stable and prosperous future.

Conference supports the right of the people of Iraq to run their own country and to control their own resources. Conference welcomes Prime Minister Allawi's announcement to hold elections on 2 January 2005. These are Iraq's first democratic elections and conference calls on the UK to work with the UN to ensure the proposed electoral system is a success. Conference also calls on the international community to continue its support to efforts to restore basic services to the Iraqi people. Conference believes that it is imperative to ensure that free elections, under UN auspices, are held as planned, that full control of Iraq is peacefully handed back to the Iraqis as soon as possible, and that the British Forces withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible but only in accordance with the wishes of the newly elected Iraqi government.

Conference welcomes the Prime Minister's decision to fully accept the findings and conclusions of Lord Butler's review of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Conference notes the conclusion that the government and intelligence services acted in good faith but urges all concerned heed the lessons learned during the last two years.

Mover: Streatham CLP Seconder: NE Derbyshire CLP

Composite 6  UK Role In Iraq - lost on a card vote 85.8% to 14.2% (constituencies 81.5% to 18.5%, unions 90.0% to 10.0%)

Conference notes that:
 
1. Throughout August and September 2004 there has been a series of onslaughts by US forces against Iraqi resistance in Najaf, Diwaniya, Sadr City, FaIIujah and elsewhere, with ever mounting loss of lives both military and civilian;
 
2. This September has seen the list of US casualties pass 1,000, while the list of Iraqi casualties is conservatively estimated to be at least 10 times as great.

3. Britain and other countries supporting the US invasion and occupation are also continuing to suffer serious losses;
 
4. On 7 August the US appointed interim government banned Al Jazeera from broadcasting in Iraq;

5. On 8 August the Iraqi government reintroduced the death penalty, not just for murder but for the vague offence of 'endangering national security';
 
6. The continuing lack of evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction is now confirmed by the latest Iraq Survey Group report.
 
This conference now calls on the British Government to recognise that the continuing occupation of Iraq is unjustifiably destructive of both lives and resources and calls on the Prime Minister to name an early date for the withdrawal of British forces.
 
Mover: Regents Park and Kensington CLP